Remains from the Korean War are back on American soil. Last week, North Korea handed over remains they’ve been holding since the 1950s. Now begins the painstaking process of analysis.
Vice President Mike Pence and the top commander of U.S. forces in Asia, Admiral Phil Davidson, formally received 55 caskets during an emotional and solemn ceremony Wednesday.
“They were husbands and fathers, brothers and neighbors—long gone, but never lost to the memory of their loved ones,” Pence said during the ceremony at a military base in Hawaii.
Each container was draped in an American flag and carried off the aircraft by one Marine, one sailor, one soldier, and one airman. The troops carefully set each box on risers inside a hangar as Pence stood watching with his hand over his heart. Davidson saluted.
The homecoming occurs 65 years after an armistice ended the conflict and weeks after President Donald Trump received a commitment from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for their return.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency will take the remains to a lab where forensic anthropologists will study bones and teeth to identify race, gender, and age. Scientists will extract DNA and compare it to samples collected from families of troops still missing.
Identification could take months or years. The agency usually also relies on items found with remains like uniforms, dog tags, and wedding rings for identification. But North Korea provided only one dog tag with the 55 boxes.
“Some have called the Korean War the ‘forgotten war.’ But today, we prove these heroes were never forgotten,” Pence says. “Today, our boys are coming home.”
(AP Photo: Military members carry transfer cases from a C-17 at a ceremony marking the arrival of the remains believed to be of American service members who fell in the Korean War.)